Why your higher ed DEIJ initiatives fail—and 3 ways to drive success

Expert Insight

Why your higher ed DEIJ initiatives fail—and 3 ways to drive success

It has never been more important for cabinet leaders to commit to diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice (DEIJ). Institutional success hinges on it, especially as equity gaps persist in every corner of campus. While higher education institutions have recently made major investments in DEIJ initiatives, these efforts often fail because they do not address underlying causes of specific equity gaps. Competing priorities among cabinet leaders and uncoordinated initiatives further exacerbate the problem.

As a result, partners often ask us how to drive alignment among cabinet members. These questions inspired us to create the Institutional Strategy Index (ISI) for DEIJ. This new service, rooted in the exercise of maturity modeling, comprehensively and objectively evaluates the current state of your institution’s DEIJ efforts against best practice and creates a personalized, prioritized roadmap of investments and actions to help close your institution’s most critical equity-related gaps.

Unlike other maturity modeling experiences, the ISI for DEIJ not only identifies gaps, but helps you decide where to start and what actions to take over time.

Learn how it works

The ISI uses a survey aligned to a framework of 33 mission-critical activities to accurately evaluate your current state against industry best practice. Institutions select senior leaders to participate in the survey, and EAB will use the results to recommend the activities that are most urgent and critical to address first on your campus.

Already, the Institutional Strategy Index for DEIJ is confirming newly urgent priorities among our Alpha cohort of participants and helping their cabinet leaders reprioritize investments. As we expand this service to a new Beta cohort, below are three ways the ISI for DEIJ can help your institution drive alignment and meaningful progress on campus.

1. Cut through the noise by illuminating overlooked issues and shifting trends

Recent headlines during the pandemic suggest that student belonging and student mental health are the most pressing DEIJ concerns. However, we know from extensive work with hundreds of colleges and universities that recruiting and retaining diverse faculty and staff also are major areas in need of improvement.

Layoffs at the beginning of the pandemic and the past year’s “Great Reshuffling” have made staff retention and climate as important as ever.


higher ed workers lost to retirement, resignations, or involuntary separations in 2020, according to EAB analysis of CUPA-HR data

However, limited budgets and lack of flexible work options have made institutions of higher education less desirable places for staff to work, especially for employees of color and parents. Similar issues permeate the faculty ranks. Data suggest that BIPOC faculty often feel more dissatisfied with how they fit in within their department, and high percentages of BIPOC faculty have considered leaving their institution.

Early results from our Alpha cohort confirm that faculty and staff experiences are urgent issues to address. In fact, fostering an inclusive climate among staff was among the top five identified priorities for all participating partners, most of whom elevated it as their number one priority. Similarly, fostering an inclusive climate for faculty was among the top five priorities for all but one partner.

While institutions should maintain their investments in student success, the ISI for DEIJ helps build the case for putting resources toward long-overlooked areas that pose the most significant barriers to institutional success.

2. Prioritize among competing needs using maturity scores and criticality ratings

DEIJ challenges manifest differently across institutions, and stakeholders tend to have varying points of view about what actions to take. With the ISI for DEIJ, you can better understand where inequities exist among your specific policies, programs, and processes—and what to do about them.

Through a comprehensive survey, EAB captures a cohesive picture of how senior leaders across campus understand the importance of and progress on your DEIJ strategy. Specifically, senior leaders answer a series of questions to determine whether certain markers of maturity are present and effective on campus. Additionally, participants rank how much of a barrier each activity poses to driving progress on overall DEIJ strategy.

Example survey on faculty recruiting and hiring

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Combined, this data allow EAB to measure the criticality of each activity and generate three priority areas for immediate investment. These rankings allow institutional leaders to identify and make the case for discrete initiatives to invest in now versus in the future. An EAB expert then facilitates a cabinet-level session to debrief the report results, address areas of disagreement, and drive alignment on an identified set of next steps.

Results and priorities informed by each survey respondent

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3. Drive progress using an evidence-informed roadmap based on your institution's context

Finally, EAB uses the results of the assessment to not only help you decide which areas to invest in next, but also provide an implementation roadmap with embedded tools and support resources. The following case study from one of our Alpha cohort partners helps illustrate how we achieve this.

Case study: Reprioritizing DEIJ activities to realize the biggest benefits

Challenge: An EAB partner, a large public research institution, recognized issues with staff and faculty climate. They hoped to deploy more regular climate surveys but otherwise were still developing a plan to address these concerns.

Solution: The ISI for DEIJ confirmed that staff and faculty climate were indeed among the partner’s top concerns. However, based on a comprehensive look at their efforts, the tool suggested that the partner’s number one priority should be to address their institutional heritage. In conversations with the partner, EAB learned the institution was struggling to have difficult conversations around previous efforts to confront their historical legacy, which in turn likely contributed to the climate issues.

Outcome: The partner is refocusing their effort to confront its historical racial legacy through a storytelling project. Once the partner tackles these issues head on, they can more successfully address changes to related areas like staff and faculty climate. As part of this initiative, the partner has access to and can leverage EAB’s full suite of research and implementation tools. Click here to see the roadmap they are using.

Want to build a cohesive picture of DEIJ on campus and get help shaping future strategy?

Join EAB's Institutional Strategy Index for DEIJ! Limited slots are available for the Beta Cohort.

Move beyond debate and take action

Learn more about how the Institutional Strategy Index for DEIJ can help you quickly and comprehensively assess the current state of DEIJ on campus and prioritize the work that matters most to your strategy.

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